Tag Archives: canlit

A True Collection of Ponderings | Mention of “Best Canadian Stories 2018,” Edited by Russell Smith. (To be Released October, 2018) Biblioasis

I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher

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Literature is important  for many of us who seek discourse and dialog about the human condition. We turn to it to gain a better understanding not only about the world but ourselves and our actions. And for those of  us who turn off our electronic gizmos at the end of the day in frustration and turn to literature to calmly and carefully reflect on the state of the world around us,  Russell Smith with the publishing team at Biblioasis has given us a brilliant collection to ponder the state of existence in with Best Canadian Stories 2018.

Noted writer and author Russell Smith has opened this book with a brilliant opening argument about fiction. It not only reflects on the collection well, but gives insight to what many of us feel today. I know I am not suppose to quote from unchecked materials but I lovet his comment and I hope the final copy of the book keeps it in:

Page 9 – Introduction

We all read, now, dozens of news stories, personal stories, arguments and anecdotes every day on our screens, and whether they be Facebook updates or essays, they all claim to be true stories. Fiction has always been good at seeming like a true story too. Often it is. These things are hard to separate.

Autobiographical fiction has always been written. Whole university courses teach “creative non-fiction” that encourage reporters to explore the novelist’s bag of tricks. “Autofiction,” a variant of memoir that takes the form of a novel and does not promise exact truth as a memoir would, has further confused our definitions.

In light of these borrowings, many enlightened people claim that further taxonomy would be useless and unproductive. It absolutely doesn’t matter if a piece is true or not: it should be judged by the same esthetic or moral standards.

. . . When an entire intellectual culture is immersed in the didactic, it loses its ability to see which is not didactic. Art has a role that polemic does not. there is a value to being removed from one’s ideological position for a moment of escape into the nearly-real.

These pieces in this collection are from a combination of new and established writers yet they document a series of emotions and situations that we all have been in one way or another yet may have not been considered or reflected on by us readers. These are not stories that should be rushed through or perused, but admired for the craft, skill and thought that were put into their creation.

So, the collection of Best Canadian Stories 2018, edited by Russell Smith, is a brilliant collection of works for those of us who quietly seek a better understanding of the world around us. It is a must-read coming out of the Fall 2018 publishing season.

 

*****

Link to Biblioasis’ website for Best Canadian Stories 2018

Link to Russell Smith’s website

 

Life, Love and the ‘Hood You Live in | Review of “That Time I Loved You” by Carrianne Leung (2018) HarperCollins Publishers

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Image linked from the publisher’s website

Where we live is suppose to be a perfectly tranquil area where kids are suppose enjoy normal childhood lives. Yet we all perfectly know that in anybody’s life there are a series of angst, fears, hardships, and rage that darken our days. Carrianne Leung looks at one seemingly perfectly constructed neighbourhood explores some of the issues that exists behind their doors in her book That Time I Loved You.

Pages 4-5 Grass

That summer, as they watered their front lawns, the adults leaned across their fences and spoke in hushed voices, flooding their grass with their now forgotten hoses. Us kids gathered in the street with our road hockey gear and baseballs to share whatever intel we’d acquired and trade in gory details. Mr. Finley’s brain was supposedly splattered in a million bits across his basement. My friend  Darren said you couldn’t clean brain completely out- that stuff sticks. Darren knew a lot about brains because he was into comic books and his mother was a nurse, so we took whatever he said as fact. As for Mrs. Da Silva, everybody knew she wasn’t right in the head. We often saw her walking around in her housecoat talking and laughing to herself.

Nothing like this had ever happened in our quiet suburban neighbourhood before. No one had ever died before Mr. Finley. In downtown Toronto, where the dangerous people lived, at least according to my dad, it probably happened all the time. Dad said downtown was no place for kids because it was dirty and full of fast cars and shady characters, while out here in the suburbs, we were free to play on the street, leave our front doors unlocked and generally not worry about such things. Granted, there was a neighbourhood thief sneaking around, but only small, mostly worthless things were taken – forgotten gardening gloves on the lawn, chipped coffee mugs left on the porch, a rusty screwdriver in a garage. People assumed it was some weird kid’s idea of fun. I had my own opinion on who it was, and it was not kid. But no one listened to me anyway.

Leung has done something truly clever with this book. The opening story deals with a troubled kid realizing that there something wrong with her neighbourhood. A series of suicides in the perfectly-designed residential area has sent the adults into a quiet tither yet none are openly discussing the situations out load. But the rest of the stories look into the domestics situations and – more importantly – the thoughts of the residents of the neighbourhood. Leung has documented the zeitgeist of a suburban neighbourhood and given a complex view of the human condition where no other writer has gone before.

Pages 21-22 Flowers

On that day, the last day, the primroses were especially pretty. There red petals opened to kiss the summer sun. Mrs. Da Silva’s first thought upon waking that morning was to water them. She had tossed and turned all night in a restless sleep and woke up already tired. There had been no rain for days. In her faded cotton house dress, she pulled the garden hose from its long coil attached to the concrete wall of the house. She liked the ease of the garden hose, its coil, its simple tap, its reach. Everything was easy here, compared with Portugal. You had a house with a tap attached to the side wall. You turned it on and water came from the hose. After twenty years in this country, Mrs. D was still amazed. Spraying the water across the patch of grass and on the petals of the primroses was among her favourite things. Each blade of grass and small flower shook and shivered under the mist raining down. When she turned, the flowers whispered two words in Portuguese behind her back that sounded like a sigh: The letter.

Her finger released the lever of the nozzle on her hose. She stood silently in the glistening grass, her toes getting wet through her slippers. She waited to her more, but the flowers went silent. Mrs. D wondered how the flowers knew about the letter, but then she remembered that they knew everything about her, as if there were an invisible thread that ran between them. The letter had arrived two days earlier, and she had read it, memorized its contents, but the news didn’t seem real, more like a ghostly whisper from far away. Only when thing flowers uttered the words in their familiar accent, as if they too had come from her fishing village in São Miguel, did the letter feel true. There were facts in the letter. The flowers confirmed it. Her mãe, her beautiful mother, was dead.

The beauty of this book is that it documents complex situations in a simple, almost every-day language. It is easy to read yet the concepts are familiar and universal. We all have sensed the frustrations and fears of the characters involved yet may have not truly considered them or discussed them out loud. Leung’s book forces many of us to come to realize many things about the world around us that we may not have considered before.

Pages 112 Kiss

It was clear how much Uncle Bill adored Louisa by the way he held her hand when they went for walks around the neighbourhood on Louisa’s good days, or by the gentle voice he used when he asked her if she was hungry. Josie had never seen a man take care of a woman before. Although her mother worked the same long hours as her father, it was still up to Josie, her mother and her sister to do all the cooking and cleaning.

Aunt Louisa and Uncle Bill lived a fifteen-minute walk away, outside the enclave of the sister streets. Instead of hanging out with June and the other kids on Winifred after lunch in the August heat, Josie would head over to her aunt and uncle’s house to start dinner. When school began that fall, she didn’t even wait to walk home with June and dashed to their place right after the bell.

Even though her aunt was sick, they had a lot of fun together. Aunt Louisa would keep her company from a chair in the corner of the kitchen while Josie chopped vegetables or swept. Aunt Louisa, already thin, would sit with her feet on another chair, propped up with pillows and wearing a big scarf around her head. She looked to Josie like a fragile egg, her skin so pale it was almost translucent. Despite the rapid changes to her appearance, Aunt Louisa still like to talk and asked her about school and her friends in a way her mother never did.

Carrianne Leung has given readers something serious and emotional to consider in her book That Time I Loved You.  Her story lines are unique and insightful which makes this book a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for That Time I Loved You

Link to Carrianne Leung’s website

 

A Survival Tale But Also One Of Pride | Review of “Moon Of The Crusted Snow” by Waubgeshig Rice (To Be Released Oct. 2018) ECW Press

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Image linked from the publisher’s website

I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher.

What if the world as we know ended not with a bang or even the proverbial whimper but with dead silence? All our communication devices fall dead, no goods or services would come in for needs and no health or emergency services would be available. Would we be able to cope and continue? That is the realm that Waubgeshig Rice explores in his new novel Moon of the Crusted Snow.

The book brilliantly opens with the protagonist Evan Whitesky hunting a moose. The winter season is almost upon him and his northern Anishinaabe community and food stocks from the south are expensive. He is grateful that his culture has taught him how to respectfully hunt and appreciate the wilderness around him. As he hurries to finish slaughtering the moose he has captured, he notes that his cell phone has no service. He finds that fact odd but doesn’t give it a second thought. Little does he realize that the outside world has changed, and he, his family and his community are about to be challenged for their survival.

Rice has written a great book about trust, family and survival here but his book gives insight into Anishnaab society and culture. He shows the pride of ways of the people and their beliefs. Rice has written book here covering some important elements of the human condition, that should be considered and pondered upon among serious readers of literature no matter what their background or origins may be.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice is a brilliant read and a unique one. It has a in-depth narrative but also shows a pride in the ways of a culture that is complex and unique. In short, it is a great addition to the 2018 fall collection of new books.

*****

Link to ECW Press’ website for Moon Of The Crusted Snow

Link to Waubgeshig Rice’s website

Learning The Value of Actions | Review of “Net Worth” by Kenneth Radu (2018) DC Books

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It is consider crass to talk about money yet it is important in our society to maintain our comfort and our dignity.  So it plays an important role in the human condition where it comes into play how we attempt to gain a better financial position or loose our status in society. And those are the themes that Kenneth Radu brilliantly explores in his collection of short stories entitled Net Worth.

Pages 2-3 Lottery

Unlike the television ads about lottery winners, Annie did not leap like a drug-addled rabbit, or immediately dream of travel to first class hotels, or buying real estate in Italy or a pied-à-terre in Paris. She slumped on her chair in front of the monitor in her bedroom where she kept her desktop computer, and heard the beating of her heart. All the numbers matched. Then she rose, forcing herself to walk. Trembling as if someone had broken into her apartment, she opened the kitchen drawer where she kept the knives. To collect the money she would have to present ticket herself to the lottery commission who, according to the terms of purchase, had the right to publicize the win and publish photos of the winner.

Her picture would be in the papers, on the lottery website, possibly YouTube for all she knew; she might even have to appear on Tout le Monde en Parle, a show watched by millions, and everyone in the country would know how chance had affected her life. How could she keep herself safe? The trembling came not just from fear, somewhat easing because she knew that no malefactor had broken into the apartment, but more from anxiety about the inevitable public glare focused on her unassuming person, about journalists repeating invasive and stupid questions to a woman who rarely spoke in public, questions about how she felt and her plans for the money, and, and, and . . .

Radu is an expert in recognizing the complexities of human nature, and writing about them in a simple and enlightening fashion. And that is what he has done with this book. The emotions and thoughts around money are deep and complicated. This collection of stories explores those constructs and the actions they bring forth. And for those of us readers who are quietly curious about human nature, this book is a treat for us to ponder and reflect upon while reading it.

Page 15 Millionaire

People didn’t want to work these days the way he did. Nina, too, had worked. Hard work paid off; no one could tell him otherwise. If Nina had found him interesting enough to marry, her well-off parents just had to swallow their pride or lose their beloved daughter for good. So maybe she did have a leg up on the ladder of success, that extra push that family wealth always gave, but together they’d built what she now left him. They’d agreed on most things, as far as he could remember, aside from favouring her daughters in ways he’d disliked. Hadn’t argued about the lack of money except over how much she should give the kids as an allowance, and how much to charity, and to less fortunate members of the family. But what the hell? Look at him now, basking in prosperity on the June day, anticipating the memorial where everyone would agree that, if money were a backyard pool, he’d be swimming in it.

Radu has mixed the perfect combination of observation and intellectual thought in these stories. The language is simple, direct and even blunt at times,  yet to a thoughtful reader, the message that Radu reflects about money and finances is enlightening and thought-provoking. These stories are truly a unique read that shouldn’t be rushed through.

Page 39 Trust Fund

The woman dragged her two children on a toboggan through the graveyard. It had been in the family for years, a long wooden toboggan no longer common, and displaced by plastic substitutes and cartoon character snowboards in the stores. When she was a child, she had sped down a bumpy hill, sometimes with friends, often alone, rarely with her father. Her mother hated the winter and stayed indoors to make soup, hot chocolate, bread, cookies and all sorts of good things. She had tried making them herself to give her boy and girl a sense of what real food tasted like, especially since Marc’s death in September, six moths ago almost to the day: not that she planned on pulling Mathieu and Grace to his headstone. Both of the kids had been old enough to cry over their father’s death and look woeful at the funeral, but young enough to recover from the loss, she hoped, without growing up permanently traumatized or otherwise deranged from grief like psychotic kids in movies acting out their rage over daddy’s death. No, they were good, of that she was sure. Mathieu had wrapped his arms around his younger sister so she wouldn’t slide off the toboggan. Grace was still a wriggler.

“Mom, Mom, you’re going right by it!”

Net Worth by Kenneth Radu is certainly one of the most unique reads I have come across in the 2018 publishing season. The language is simple yet the concepts it brings forward are thought-provoking and enlightening. In short, this book is a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to DC Books’ website for Net Worth

 

One of Most Well-Crafted Reads of 2018 | Review of “I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter” by David Chariandy (2018) McClelland & Stewart

 

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There is no doubt that many of us feel anxiety about the future. Everything from the rise of populist leaders to the rise of the costs of the items that we need to exist can cause our blood pressure to ‘rise ‘ (Then add to our health to the list of things to be anxious about.) Yet we still want our younger loved-ones to have some confidence for their future. David Chariandy has felt those same fears and desires when he considered his daughter and her future and has brilliantly shared those views in his new book I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter.

Pages 9-10 The Occasion

But I find myself wondering just when a child begins to dwell in that place of tomorrow. I wonder, most often, about your life in the place of today, and what you have already seen and heard, have already understood and been made to feel. I wonder if there are moments, despite your tough postures, when you have felt neither confident nor safe. I wonder about the persistent message sent to girls in the news, in movies, in language and image, and in the rhetoric of politics and business, especially girls who share your ancestry but who have not had your special opportunities. I wonder about the electronic “tomorrow” that you are already navigating in your basement room, when at night you peer into a screen and the world casts its lurid energies upon your brown face.

This slim volume is the most profound cultural artifact that I have encountered this year. Its 120 pages are filled with personal and emotional thoughts that Chariandy was kind enough to craft into a book and share with the world. He takes some personal moments with his daughter that are heart-wrenching (A moment where a father/daughter visit to a buffet is ruined when a bigoted patron butts her way in front of him and remarks “I was born here. I belong here.” Or the joyful events of his daughter’s thirteenth birthday being grimly overshadowed by bitter politics and the Inauguration of President Donald Trump) Chariandy has given us serious readers a voice to confirm our concerns about the state of the world.

Pages 51-52 The Test

You did not create the inequalities and injustices of this world, daughter. You are neither solely nor uniquely responsible to fix them. If there is anything to learn from the story of our ancestry, it is that you should respect and protect yourself; that you should see, truly see, the vulnerability and the creativity and the enduring beauty of others, in the desperate hope for a better life, either migrate or are pushed across the hardened borders of nations and find themselves stranded in unwelcoming lands. We live in a time, dearest daughter, when the callous and ignorant in wealthy nations have made it their business to loudly proclaim who are the deserving “us” (those really “us”) and who are the alien and undeserving “them.” But the story of our origins offers us a different insight. The people we imagine most apart from “us” are, oftentimes, our own forgotten kin.

A reader can sense the quiet thought and crafted tone in this book that Chariandy has down in his previous novels. He is reflecting on his reality and the reality of his daughter and giving a us all a unique perspective to consider. It is a book that isn’t all preachy doom and gloom but it isn’t a book that is sunshine a rainbows either. It documents a reality that is in flux and needs to be considered and reflected upon.

Pages 107-109

You are a complex girl, my daughter. For some of my friends back east, your preferences for sushi and skiing and jackets of Gore-Tex instantly identify you as a “Vancouverite.” Your mother once, much to my dismay, pronounced you a “camper.” And for a short while, you yourself like the term “tomboy,” with is promised alternative to the categories of “girl” and “boy.” For some of my relatives, you are Black; for others you are Indian. And as a girl of African, South Asian, and European heritage, some may consider you still another identity, that of being “mixed.” Sometimes there is unfair privilege in being mixed, and of thereby avoiding certain degrees of prejudice simply because you might be lighter skinned that other Black or South Asian girls. Other times, there is a foolish denigration associated with being mixed. Of course, as you prove abundantly, there is beauty in being mixed; and I have heard some well-wishing folk proclaim people like you the happy future for humankind, imagining that racial prejudice will come to an end when everyone, through countless inter-mixing, achieves the same features and tone of brown. Forgive me dearest one, but I don’t share this hope. The future I yearn for is not one in which we will all be clothed in sameness, but one in which we will finally learn to both read and respectfully discuss our differences.

And you are a Canadian too, an identity that contains a specific story, promotes specific benefits and ideals, as well as specific illusions and blindnesses. Not so long ago in Canada’s history, a girl like you might very well have been denied citizenship, security, and belonging. As your father, I wonder about the extent to which you can now envision a just future for yourself here. My question is far from unique in the world today, and it links you to young visible minorities in the U.S. and Britain, Australia and Germany, and many other countries.

David Chariandy has proved himself a truly gifted and enlightened writer by sharing his book  I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter with the world. It is an emotional and well-crafted read and no doubt, one of my favourites reads of 2018.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter

Link to my review of David Chariandy’s Brother

Link to my review of David Chariandy’s Soucouyant

A Novel that Gives Readers Definitions to Complex Social Ills | Review of “Brother” by David Chariandy (2017) McClelland & Stewart

Brother

There are terms that social scientists and politicians throw around to describe our society and it’s illnesses. But those terms are meaningless if one cannot understand what those terms truly mean. A good piece of literature should create empathy to a social situation with it’s readers and create a better consciousness about our society. And that is what David Chariandy has done with his novel Brother.

Page 1

Once he showed me his place in the sky. That hydro pole in a parking lot all weed-broke and abandoned. Looking up, you’d see the dangers of the climb. The feeder lines on insulators, the wired bucket called a pole-pig, the footholds rusted bad and going way into a sky cut hard by live cables. You’d hear the electricity as you moved higher, he warned me. Feel it shivering your teeth and lighting a whole city of hear inside your head. But if you made it to the top, he said, you were good. All that free air and seeing. The streets below suddenly patterns you could read.

A great lookout, my brother told me. One of the best in the neighbourhood, but step badly on a line, touch your hand to the wrong metal part while you’re brushing up against another, and you’d burn. Hang scarecrow-stiff and smoking in the air, dead black sight for all. “You want to go out like that?” he asked. So when you climbed, he said, you had to go careful. You had to watch your older brother and follow close his moves. You had to think back on every step before you took it. Remembering hard the whole way up.

He taught me that, my older brother. Memory’s got nothing to do with the old and grey and faraway gone. Memory’s the muscle sting of now. A kid reaching brave in the skull hum of power.

“And if you can’t memory right,” he said, “you lose.”

This has been a notable book on a number of lists now – being nominated and winning numerous awards and the book that the London (Ontario) Public Library is encouraging its members to read right now. (Link to the One Book, One London webpage hosted by the London Public Library). This is a book that gives one pause to consider urban angst and poverty in ways most people may not understand. Readers are vaulted into the lives of Michael and his older brother Francis. They are both trying to come to terms with their Trinidadian heritage while living on the outskirts of a major urban centre. They deal with a barrage of prejudices and “low expectations” because of who they are and the colour of their skin.

Pages 46-47

“A girl,” said Mother, as if to herself, “A sleeping child.”

Since witnessing Anton get shot, Francis had been a zombie, his eyes glazed and evasive. But Mother’s words appeared to shake him awake. For a second he met my eyes, but then dropped his. Mother was now staring at him.

The cops reassured her that we were not under investigation. Already there were leads on the names and whereabouts of the suspects, but since we had been in the vicinity of the shooting, they might want to interview us as the case developed. They voiced concerns about Francis’s connections to some of the suspects. Mother nodded and said twice that her boys would cooperate fully. The cops encouraged her, also, to get in touch if she felt she could offer any relevant information. It would all be anonymous, they insisted. Our identities would be protected.

“We will cooperate,” said Mother again. “We promise. Thank you, officers.”

She continued thanking them as they walked away. And then she held the door open for Francis and me to go inside. She shut the door very carefully behind us and took her time letting go of the handle. She seemed to muster all of the energy in her body just to face us.

“You will . . . tell me . . . everything,” she said.

Chariandy has a direct style here but the book gives a vivid description of a life of a young urban man trying to find his place in a cruel world.  It is a small volume of a book but deserves complete attention by any serious reader. The settings he describes alone are so true and feel so alone. This is a must read for any person who believes in the power of literary empathy.

Pages 90-91

Jelly must sense my wariness towards him, because shortly after the tea, he leaves without a word. Through the window, I see him pass Mrs. Henry, who stops to stare before shaking her head and muttering something disapproving to the invisible congregation of souls forever accompanying her. If Jelly can hear the rebuke, he very wisely doesn’t respond and continues walking down the avenue. He’s taken his backpack, and for a moment I wonder if he’s left for good. Should we have tried to talk? Ten years and not a single word between us. Should I at least have said goodbye? I feel more relief than guilt. But in a couple of hours he returns with his backpack full, as well as two plastic bags of groceries in his hands. And there’s another surprise.

He can cook.

He moves fluently through the inexpensive ingredients he’s bought, bags of vegetables as well as dried peas, rice little containers of seasonings he produces from his backpack. He chops like a chef, the sharp steel edge loud and quick upon the wood. Soon he’s got the edge loud and quick upon the wood. Soon he’s got the entire kitchen in chaos, no free space on the counters, all stove elements on. Mother has begun to pitch in too, and she sorts dried peas at the kitchen table, dropping them into a ceramic bowl with the sound of small pebbles. Even Aisha is participating, fetching pots and pans, washing vegetables in a big colander at the sink.

Brother by David Chariandy is a novel that gives definitions to many of the social ills we hear about. It is not only a book that should be read or pondered over but discussed in great detail. In any case a great piece of literature worthy of it’s many accolades.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for Brother

Link to the London (Ontario, Canada) Public Library’s website for the One Book One London project

Link to my review of David Chariandy’s previous book Soucouyant

 

A Noble Gift I was Touched to Receive | Mention of “The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011” by Michael Harris (2017) The Porcupine’s Quill

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

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We all receive numerous gifts throughout the year but the ones that have true meaning are the ones that are carefully crafted  so they become treasured items.  Recently I received a copy of The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011 by Michael Harris from the dedicated publishing firm of The Porcupine’s Quill. And it will become a loved item for my personal library shelf.

Work (Excerpt) – Page 157

My seven-year-old fishing

for the first time, in the murk, perfect

pike somewhere else, not here. The

mobile rings, his mum asking

everything OK? Better take some

chicken out for supper. Poems somewhere,

and rainbows. Rainbows!

I received this volume in the mail on a Friday and spent a lot of my leisure time over the following weekend with it. I love Harris’ expressive prose and lyricism in this collection. It was a warm and enveloping feeling to read a phrase that he has crafted and then come to the realization that I had been in a similar situation or had a similar feeling that he had been describing in his works. I found myself repeating phrases out loud because they were such vivid expressions that I could relate to.

The Patient – Page 15

I am here and afraid; my body

scooped out and laid in thin

rubber. the tubes like thermometers

in my body’s weather; they fill me

 

with bread pale as clean cotton.

I reduce it, reduce everything

to liquids in what’s left of my stomach,

in what’s left of my mind.

 

In the softest, quietest ways I am broken

into parts; one a day, once a day, they

come and play with me, with red sacs

and white sacs and murmurings and measurements.

 

They clean me like a fingernail

where the quick starts to sting

and they will not stop.

The Porcupine’s Quill in Erin, Ontario, Canada always publishes such detailed works with dedication and clarity that it is a pleasure for any book fan to pick up one of their works and slip away from the world in an intellectual fashion. Their stock is always of highest grade and any illustrations they use are detailed and well-thought out.

The Watchmender, Paros – Page 83

Something’s broken,

and they don’t know what.

These are the watches

their grandfathers brought –

the springs so thin now

they’d snap at his touch:

and they expect them fixed.

 

Under the small shop lamp,

his two differing eyes work hard

against each other: the clear one

fastened to his optic lens –

the wayward other, wandering with disuse,

dimly taking in the villagers

whose shadow pass his window,

or stand before him, waiting.

 

He bends like a priest

by the deathbed candle,

to attend to the useless glow

of jewels sunk deep

in almost-dead works,

like rosaries of stars

that won’t wear out.

The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011 by Michael Harris was a truly remarkable and touching gift I received from The Porcupine’s Quill. Harris’ words and well-crafted and expressive and the book is printed on wonderful stock. It is an item I will cherish and keep.

*****

Link to The Porcupine`s Quill website for The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011

A Bit of a Laugh, A Bit of a Think |Review of Will Ferguson’s “The Shoe on the Roof” (2017) Simon and Schuster Canada

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For many of us who read, we have to admit we have problems grasping the way the world around us works. Is there something wrong with our minds when we do something foolish or make people around us shake their heads? And when everything in our lives – relationships, jobs, family, health – seems to build into one unsurmountable crisis after another, do we hang our hang our heads and surrender to the evils of the world. Or do we read in order to better understand ourselves and try to deal with those issues.  Of course we do. But what happens when we encounter a novel in which the plot makes us truly question our take on the reality of our realities? Hmmm. So how should we really take Will Ferguson’s The Shoe on the Roof?

Page 3 Chapter One

The one almighty fact about love affairs is that they end. How they end and why, although of crucial interest – indeed, agony – the participants, is less important than that they end. Marriages might linger like a chest cold, and there are friendships that plod along simply because we forget to cancel the subscription. But when love affairs collapse, they do so suddenly: they drop like swollen mangoes, they shatter like saucers, they drown in the undertow, they fall apart like a wasp’s nest in winter. They end.

Thomas knew this, and yet . . .

Will Ferguson’s prose always seems to have these elements of profound thoughts that all-of-a-sudden end with phrase that comes across like a dull thud. And this book is filled with such sections. The story deals with Thomas Rosanoff. He spent his younger life as a test subject for his father’s psychiatric tests which was the subject for a best-selling book. Now younger Thomas tries to escape that shadow that being ‘the boy in the box’ by trying his own hand at medical studies. But when his girlfriend ends their relationship, he decides to try his own hand at researching cures by bring in three homeless men who claim they are the living embodiment of Jesus Christ. But as things slide further and further into chaos for poor Thomas, he finds he must not only clean up the mess he has created but also deal with the voices inside his own head.

Pages 109-110 Chapter Seventeen

Is identity immutable? Or is it malleable? Is it transitory and temporary – something to be donned or discarded at whim – or is it woven into our DNA? Does it even exist? Perhaps identity is simply an agreed-upon fiction, a conglomerate of traits.

Thomas knew full well that the defining characteristic of our interconnected online age isn’t anonymity but reinvention. You don’t cloak who you are: you change who you are. In the either/or of binary equations, you can hide in plain sight, can dress yourself in layers: a dance of the seven veils in reverse. You can even claim the identity of someone else entirely. Your father`s say.

Two weeks, top. That was how much time Thomas figured he would need. A provisional custody order (one month, on review) would be more that sufficient. How much time do you need to jolt someone out of a falsely held identity?

He was equally sure that the request would go through without a ripple. Why wouldn’t it? It wasn’t as though people were constantly stealing mental patients. Far from it. Hospitals were always looking for people to take custody of intractable cases – family, relatives, halfway homes, community groups. It was a matter of paperwork, of filling in the right forms, clicking on the right boxes. No one would step back to look at the larger picture. No one would ask why a patient was being released into the care of one Thomas Aaron Ronsanoff.

Like Ferguson’s previous works, there are moments of profound insights while chaos and hilarity ensues. There are no deep truths however, more of a realization and a matter-of-fact observations about the human condition. In short, of moments of ‘hmm’ and `ah-hah’ that a reader will note before a page is turned.

Page 360

Outside in the dusty heat of summer, a city bus rattled past smokestacks and warehouses, straining uphill and then fighting its own momentum on the way down. (He) was inside, dressed in factory blues, toolbox on his lap.

The driver looked at him in the bus’s rearview mirror. “You seem familiar. Do I know you?”

“Maybe,” (He) said softly. “I used to be somebody.”

And the bus trundled into the haze.

But there is a serious note of truth in this fiction. The scenes have a sense of familiarity to them as do many of the situations that poor Thomas finds himself in. This is a good read for sure. One that makes anybody laugh and think at almost the same time.

Page 369 Acknowledgements

This book began with a story my mother told me. My mom, Lorna Louse Bell, worked as a psychiatric nurse at the Weyburn Mental Hospital in the 1950s under Dr.Humphry Osmond. She often spoke about her time at Weyburn and the stories she shared with us were, by turn unsettling, heartbreaking, occasionally uplifting, and at times inspiring . . . Although inspired by these stories, The Shoe on the Roof remains a work of fiction.

So I have to admit that Will Ferguson’s The Shoe on the Roof is certainly a unique and enjoyable read. Like Ferguson’s previous work there are certainly moments of profound insights followed by serious, simple thuds of truths. In short, a good read.

*****

Link to Simon and Schuster Canada’s website for The Shoe of the Roof

Link to Will Ferguson`s website

Learning that a “Place” shapes our Identity as well |Review of “The Lightkeeper’s Daughters (2017) Harper Avenue

Jean E. Pendziwol will be appearing at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

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‘Place’ plays an important element in our identities. Where we are from and how we were raised in those surroundings play important parts to our personalities. Yet sometimes we forget where we came from and wonder why we feel so ‘lost’ in our modern-day lives. And that is the theme that Jean E. Pendziwol explores in her novel The Lightkeeper’s Daughters.

Page 10-11 Morgan

“All right.” Ms. Campbell sighs, extending the folder in her hand. “You’re Morgan Fletcher,” she removes her glasses and places them on the desk. “I see.”

I know what she sees. She sees what she wants to. She sees my straight black hair, dyed so that it shines like midnight. She sees dark kohl circling my gray eyes, my tight jeans and high black boots and the row of silver studs along my earlobes. She sees my pale face that I’ve made even paler, and my bright red lips. She doesn’t see that I am, maybe just a little scared. I won’t let her see that.

I slouch back into the chair, and cross my legs. So that’s how it’s going to be. Fine.

Ms. Campbell opens the folder. “Well, Morgan, community hours, is it? I says here that you have agreed to clean up the graffiti and assist with further maintenance work under the direction of our maintenance supervisor.” She looks at me again. “You’ll be here every Tuesday and Thursday right after school for the next four weeks.”

“Yup.” I tap my toe against the front of the desk and look at my fingernails. They are painted red, like my lips. Blood red.

“I see,” she says. Again. Ms. Campbell pauses for a moment, and I can tell that she is studying me. I know what’s in that folder. I don’t want her judgement. Worse, I don’t want her pity. I shift my gaze to a spider plant on the top of the filing cabinet. She sighs again. “Well, then I guess we`d better get you introduce to Marty.” She leaves the folder containing my past on her desk, and I have no choice; I follow her down the hall.

This is Pendziwol’s first novel and has become one of my favourite’s of the 2017 publishing season. She does two things in a work of fiction that I enjoy  – uses a lyrical style that helps the plot flow AND documents an element of a human condition that conveys a feeling we all endure; wondering who we are and where we come from. The plot weaves between two main characters. Morgan, who is a teenage, angst-ridden, and confused young woman and Elizabeth, a blind, elderly resident of a nursing room. As the two meet and converse, they find out they both have a common history descending from a family who were lighthouse keepers on a series of islands in Lake Superior. Each chapter is told through one of the two women as they slowly learn elements of their common family history.

Pages 76-77 Elizabeth

They stay only about half an hour, and then the nuggets find a resting place in the garbage pail beside the sofa, the latest toy is dropped into the Hello Kitty backpack, and Mr. Androsky is wheeled back to his room, slurping up the last few sips of milk shake. It is a ritual I dismissingly tolerate, but secretly envy.

I have no family to come visit me. No weekly offerings of barely digestible fast food, no cards on my birthday, no one asking if I am well that week or need anything. It is only when I hover on the periphery of Mr. Androsky`s life that it occurs to me that I am missing something. Emily was my life. Yes, there was Charlie, too, for a time. But I could not bring myself to reach out to him. I could not forgive his misguided actions or contemplate an apology from him, should he even wanted to provide one. And I could not be sorry for those things that he would not forgive. So we lived in mutual exile from each other.  He was never acknowledged, never present, but always a shadow that hovered just beyond our existence. We had been so close, the three of us; he our champion and we his adoring followers. But darkness swallowed us, and when I had to choose,  I chose Emily.

This is one of those books I would recommend a person takes a few minutes at the end of a busy day to sit down with and ponder over. While it is a lyrical read, the prose is also simple and elegant. Pendziwol is also able to capture the speech patterns of each of her protagonists here perfectly. A reader can clearly grasp both what young Morgan or elderly Elizabeth are thinking and desiring. Empathy comes easily with the well-crafted phrases Pendziwol uses here.

Page 274 Elizabeth

I stand beneath the shower, hands gripping the chrome bars fastened to the tile walls. Water rains down, trickling like a thousand streams across my body. I close my eyes and lift my head, allowing the drops to flood my face and mold my hair until it hangs, sleek and thick, a snowy river dripping puddles that collect at my feet and disappear down the drain in the floor. I can feel the wolf, prowling. He is becoming more persistent, visiting almost daily now. He is patient. He sits, watching, waiting. I wipe my eyes, but they fill as quickly, and I don’t bother clearing them again. I reach out a hand, exploring the wall until I find the tap and turn it fully it fully to the right. I gasp when the cold water stabs at me, as cold as the Lake. My eyes flash open at the shock, but still they see nothing. My skin prickles. My pulse quickens.

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol is certainly one of my favourite reads of the 2017 season. It is emotional and lyrical and enlightening. Certainly a great piece of literature and hopefully not one of the last of novels from this author.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada page for The Lightkeeper’s Daughters

Link to Jean E. Pendziwol`s website

Link to my Q&A with Jean E. Pendziwol – “Place plays an important role in most of my work and I like to bring my readers here, to my home, through my words.”

Updating the Concept of the ‘Immigrant Experience’|Review of “Soucouyant” by David Chariandy (2007) Arsenal Pulp Press

David Chariandy will be participating at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

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For many of us who descend from immigrant backgrounds, we had to deal with a lot more baggage than the label of “multiculturalism” can truly define our families. We had to deal with: racism, ethnic traditions and stereotypes, untold stories and whispers of events that our elders may not what us to know about, etc. etc. Those hardships become more acute as our parents become older and depend on our care for their well-being. And it is that element of the human condition that David Chariandy documents in his novel Soucouyant.

Page 9

I stay with Mother, though I haven’t truly been invited to stay. On that first evening of my return, Mother walks suddenly out of the kitchen and up the stairs to her bedroom on the second floor. I hear the low grate of a deadbolt. later, i make my way up to the other bedroom on the second floor. The bunk bed that I once shared with my brother is still made, though the sheets and pillows smell of dampness.

My bedroom window looks out over the weathered edge of the bluffs to a great lake touched by the dying light of the city. Below, some forty feet down, a few trees lean about on a shore of sand and waterlogged litter. Dancing leaves and the tumble of an empty potato chip bag. Despite the view and the fact that many consider the surrounding neighbourhood ‘a good part of Scarborough,’ our place is difficult to boast of. We are alone in a cul-de-sac once used as a dump for real-estate developers. The house is old and bracing now for the final assaults of erosion. Even in summer, all windows facing south are kept shut. Because of the railway track, scarcely ten feet away.

Chariandy has written an insightful bit of literature here. Readers glide into the thoughts of a son who returns after a two-year absence to his Caribbean-born mother suffering from dementia. Upon his arrival at his childhood home, he not only finds the easily-confused individual who is his mother but also a young woman who also occupies the house. As the son continues his stay at the home, he is forced to confront memories and hidden secrets of his mother and his family.

Pages 47-48

Please, Mother. Please.

There are the ironies, of course. Mother can string together a litany of names and places from the distant past. She can remember the countless varieties of a fruit that doesn’t even grow in this land, but she can’t accomplish the most everyday of tasks. She can’t dress herself or remember to turn off taps and lights. Increasingly, she can’t even remember the meaning of the word ‘on,’ or the function of a toothbrush, or the simple fact that a waste-paper basket isn’t a toilet.

‘It happen . . .’ she tries again. ‘It happen on fore-day morning when the sun just a stain on the sky. When the moon not under as yet. Me, I was a young girl running . . .’

‘I know, Mother. It doesn’t matter. You’re here now.’

‘You’re here now . . .?’

‘You arrived, Mother. You told me the story, remember? There were lights . . .’

She had trouble arriving. The plane banked around the airport for almost an hour and the pilot had announced that an ice storm was hitting the city and the ground crews were clearing the runway. An ice storm, she thought. What on earth could that be like? What fearsome beauty, falling jewels of ice? When the plane banked a last time for the approach, she looked out of the wind to see the city once more. No buildings at all, only countless dazzling lights. A land of lights.

She came here as a domestic, through a scheme that offered landed status to single women from the Caribbean after a year of household work. This was in the early sixties, before the complexion of the cities and suburbs of this land looked anything like it does today. The administrators of the domestic scheme set her up in a small apartment above a building housing a butcher’s shop and a Negro hair-cutting salon, hope that she would feel at home., realizing that no other person would be willing to put her up. It was smelly and the cockroaches ran and ran when the overhead bulb was turned on, but she didn’t mind. Everything seemed wonderful to her, even the scraggly trees and slushy sidewalks. The snow-accented trees.

The snow.

While the details that Chariandy documents in the story are unique to immigrants from the Caribbean region, the experiences his Canadian-born and residing protagonist endures are universal to any descendant of any immigrant of any background. The attempts of trying to fit into the mainstream society, the questions of past experiences of one’s parents, the embarrassment of old mores and customs from an old culture that no longer fit in our modern society. And Chariandy documents the situation of a child trying to deal with an elderly parent whose actions are not proper in any situation.

Page 83

Later in the evening, I stumble upon her in the kitchen spilling sugar from a large sack over wedges of lemon and then eating away, rind and all. There’s a grainy stickiness all over the linoleum and white streaks on the rug leading out of the kitchen. Mother winces with each of her mouthfuls. ‘Like eating lightning,’ she says. She looks at the leaking bag of sugar and explains it is broken would some please call the  . . . electrician. She insists that the whole house deserves a good sweeping, and starts calling for the girl to give her a bath.

‘I can bathe you.’

You can . . .?’

‘I can do it too. I’m your son.’

She nods warily at this. I accept the bag of sugar from her and guide her upstairs to the bathroom. I make sure the water in the tub is just right, and I add the salts. I help her out of her clothes, her hands balancing on my shoulders while I slip her underwear off. Her private skin so pale and unwrinkled, even childlike. Her elbows pressed tight against her sides.

‘Don’t get my head wet,’ she says.

David Chariandy has documented an important and delicate element about the human condition in his novel Soucouyant. The book is lyrically and well-crafted and is certainly a great read. One worthy of any serious reader’s time and thoughts.

*****

Link to Arsenal Pulp Press’ website for Soucouyant

Link to a page on Wikipedia about David Chariandy

Link to Penguin/Random House Canada’s website for Brother –  David Chariandy’s newest book – to be released on Sept. 26, 2017.